“So what’s the story behind the temple ?”, I ask my friend, munching a typical Nepali breakfast of poori, jalebi and tarkari outside the Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu. My friend is a Nepali who left his country in the year 1999 before the political drama had begun to unfold in Nepal. Twelve years later, his spiritual wanderings see him outside this temple today eating breakfast with a fellow spiritual seeker like me. All around shopkeepers and vendors try to sell me rudrakshas, kum kum, diyas, flowers, beads, incense, idols, pooja fans and an assortment of pretty items which I admire and politely decline to buy – just yet.
“Many stories are afloat”, he answers, sipping his tea. “One of the more popular ones is that the Pandavas after the battle of Mahabharata wanted to redeem themselves of their sin of killing their kith and kin and prayed to Lord Shiva to forgive them. Lord Shiva assumed a bull form to elude them. After a lot of tapas and search, the Pandavas saw the bull and immediately knew that this is Lord Shiva. On seeing them, Lord Shiva, in the bull form, started to dig into the ground to avoid them. The Pandavas run after him and could only catch his head as the rest of his body was already under the ground. Seeing their earnestness, Lord Shiva forgave them. Since then, He is worshipped as the Lord of Animals or Pashupatinath in this temple”.
“Interesting”. True ? Who knows ? Considering the number of times the face of the world has been swept by the forces of nature – and man – in the last twenty centuries and more, can there even be any tangible proof of any tale dating that far back ? For that matter, is there any proof of anything worth knowing in life ? Maybe our biggest achievements of today will be met with a similar scrutiny and skepticism by whatever exists in the world twenty more centuries from now, one never knows.
“Do you want a pooja basket ?”, asks my friend bringing me back from my train of thoughts as I look around the place wondering how, when and by who – or who all – this temple was put in its present form. I ponder over the fact that this temple is the biggest place of worship of Lord Shiva in Nepal, and has been under the direct patronage of the kings of Nepal since time immemorial, getting contributions from many rulers to expand the temple complex. My sense of time and place gets momentarily boggled and my sense of history feels flustered.
I realize my friend is looking at me and smiling and waiting for an answer. “Yes ofcourse, we’ll take a pooja basket. And a rudraksha mala, a big one, to go with the rest”, for I was already wearing two. A mala is another term for a string of beads worn around the neck. Rudrakshas are beads that hold the cosmic energy in them – which means, the more you meditate and the deeper your connection with your inner self, the more energy the rudrakshas will hold and the darker their color will be.
Since my childhood my connection with deities and temples had been nothing greater than my connection with road signs, which is to say, not at all. They were something people used to follow and take seriously but I never understood why, because they never lead me to anywhere. I had questions in my mind which I wanted answers to, but a temple did not seem like a place where I would find answers on existence.
Today I was in one of the holiest temples of Lord Shiva, the God of enlightenment. As I enter the temple compound I am instantly taken in by the grand pagoda structure, the crowds, the incense, the loud Nepali music, the camphor, the electrifying energy in the atmosphere and the monkeys hopping from one place to the other like its their playground. Here, I, with my malas, do not stand out at all. Here, I fit in comfortably. There is an erstwhile unseen energy in the air which begins to penetrate my very being, raising me beyond the physical, immersing me into the present, the immediate, the inner world in sync with the outer world. I see people and their faces, their expressions. My friend tells me I should stand in the queue for the pooja and darshan. He is talking to the priest trying to find the best way to get the darshan. He has been here several times, but he is trying to ensure I don’t miss anything important. I tell him to relax. Some people hustle and bustle in the queue, like they always do. I can see them struggling to get near God. They dont want to miss God. But how can you ever miss God?
It’s my turn. I step forward and give the pooja basket to the bhatt who takes it, without pausing his mantra chanting. My eyes are now arrested on the golden eyes standing out from the stark black shiva linga which are staring right at me. In that moment, I am transfixed on the eyes – they seem to be talking to me, without saying anything. The bhatt brings back the rudrakshas and the sandalwood paste and I walk out, blissful. My friend and I walk around the temple having darshan of the remaining deities and soaking in the temple vibes. I am very aware … in my mind, there are no thoughts, only the present moment and its experience. While in the queue, the question had occurred to me, why am I here? And the answer came, this time. I am here, not because I want to be here, but because Pashupatinath wants me here. Because the cosmos wants me here. I did not fret about darshan or pooja, I knew I was here not because I wanted something but because the cosmos wanted to give me something, all I had to do was receive. And I did. I let myself be a path for His energy to flow through me. And I could feel it now, vibrating in my being like the membrane of a drum. I know now, that some answers come, but not in words – but as an experience.